UFWOC’s Charter Celebration

UFWOC’s Charter Celebration

César Chávez and Larry Itliong standing on stage during the UFWOC charter presentation, Delano, 1966. Photo by John Kouns.

The National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) merged to form, under the AFL-CIO, the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) on August 22, 1966. This affiliation was facilitated by William Kircher, director of organizing at the AFL-CIO, who after visiting the pilgrimage to Sacramento in April had transferred AWOC funds and headquarters to Delano, under the direction of Larry Itliong, and recognized NFWA’s claim to represent DiGiorgio workers pulling out AWOC from the ballot. Fearing to lose their autonomy, NFWA leaders were skeptical of the merger, but the need to preserve unity during the DiGiorgio election campaign persuaded them to affiliate.

Agustín Lira and Luis Valdez singing on stage during a UFWOC presentation, Delano, 1966. Photo by John Kouns.

When UFWOC was officially chartered, César Chávez became director and Larry Itliong assistant director. Besides Chávez and Itliong, the UFWOC’s executive board included leaders from both NFWA and AWOC: Gilbert Padilla, Philip Vera Cruz, Dolores Huerta, Tony Orendáin, Andy Imutan, Julio Hernández, Manuel Vásquez, and DeWitt Tannehill.

Bill Kircher presenting the UFWOC charter to César Chávez and Larry Itliong, Delano, 1966

Bill Kircher presenting the UFWOC charter to César Chávez and Larry Itliong, Delano, 1966

William “Bill” Kircher was the national director of organizing assigned by the president of the AFL-CIO George Meany to go to Delano during the strike. Kircher met with Chávez during the march to Sacramento. There, Chávez decided that the NFWA would become an AFL-CIO affiliate and talks of an AWOC-NFWA merger began. One point brought up by opposition to the merger was that Kircher’s superior, Meany, steered the AFL-CIO in a more conservative direction and could handicap the NFWA like some of the more progressive unions before it. Chávez ultimately decided that the merger was a good idea because having AWOC and NFWA on the DiGiorgio ballot could split the anti-company and anti-Teamsters vote.

UFWOC won unprecedented autonomy from the AFL-CIO and as an organizing committee it was entitled to a monthly subsidy. The new union faced challenges as some members of AWOC quit due to economic or ideological differences. AWOC organizers were asked to give up their weekly pay of $125 and saw their work as a trade dispute rather than a social justice movement. One AWOC organizer, Ben Gines, joined the Teamsters instead of the new union. UFWOC was busy from the start, tackling multiple campaigns including the Perelli-Minetti and Sons national boycott and various election campaigns at the DiGiorgio and Goldberg ranches.

César Chávez standing on stage with a mariachi band, Delano, 1966. Photo by John Kouns.


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